Friday, March 23, 2007


Reviews of Reign Over Me appeared in the Statesman and the Times this morning. The Statesman didn't hate it, which made me angry. The Times gave it a pretty bad review, which was only slightly satisfying.

I'm worried about how obsessed I am with this movie. It's out of proportion. Just thinking about it makes my heart race.

Yes, it was homophobic and misogynistic, but no more so than the average overheard conversation among straight men who don't think any women or homosexuals are listening. Maybe it's the fact that the hatefulness is wrapped up in what is supposed to pass for sensitivity. It's supposed to be a meditation on how difficult male friendships can be. Difficult because men are shallow assholes, is what the film says, I doubt intentionally.

The other issue, besides the politics, is the fact that the film is just bad. Bad writing, bad idea, bad, bad. Nothing in it rings true. This is where I get most frustrated. It's the same feeling I get about Clint Eastwood movies. Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby are two of the most get-in-your-face-and-make-you-want-to-throw-things bad movies I've ever seen. They are maudlin, heavy-handed, simple-minded, and just plain ridiculous. Not only is Clint Eastwood an awful director, he's the worst actor ever. And yet, people rave about his movies.

If these are not bad movies, then I'm an idiot. So all the talk about how great he is and how great these films are, makes me feel like I'm either insane, stupid and out of touch, or living in a nightmare upside-down universe.

Bad dreams.

A couple days ago, J. and I watched Stay, an intensely disturbing movie. Since ruining movies is on my short list of Deadly Sins, I won't write much about it, except to say that it's really, really good. I'm sure it accounted for my creepy dreams that night. But I can't blame it for the awful dreams I had this morning. Awful in the sense of upsetting, but also awful in the sense of "can't you do better than that?"

In one, I was moving out of a big, dark house. My parents were there; in the dream this was their house, but it wasn't their actual house. I and a group of friends were carrying boxes out to a car, which was parked on the other side of a strange, uneven landscape of lawn and pavement, trash and shrubs. As I was making my final trip to the car, ready to jump in with my friends and drive away, I saw that whoever had carried out a tray of seedlings for the garden had, instead of loading them into the car, planted them in a crack in the asphalt. I shouted to my friends in the car that they would have to wait until I dug up the plants and re-potted the.

Can you say heavy-handed?

In another -- this one woke me up -- I was in a big, dark house (many of my dreams take place in this big, dark house), doing something sedate and domestic like watching TV. J. was there. It was dusk (many of my dreams take place at dusk in a big, dark house), and someone knocked at the door. Through the screen door, I could see that it was some people we didn't want to deal with, so I discreetly pushed the latch closed -- in the dream, I thought I was being discreet, but, now that I think about it, these people were standing right there watching me do it -- and walked away. I looked out a window on the side of the house and saw that these people were rigging up a floodlight and two huge speakers aimed at the house. They looked like bikers, men and women in black jeans and cutoff t-shirts.

I'm struggling so hard with this screenplay lately, trying to tell a complex story with some subtlety. And I'm not getting it; it feels either completely obscure or, on the other hand, clunky and maudlin. So it's disheartening that not even my dreams are subtle or complex.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


I read the Austin daily, The Austin American-Statesman every morning. It's not a bad paper. Their editorial page leans ever so slightly leftward (in the current sense of "left," meaning any acknowledgment, however tepid, that there may be a point of view other than Tony Snow's). I miss the New York Times, but it's important to me to know about local issues. One thing I like is that I can read it in half the time I used to spend on the Times. (I scan and to fill in the gaps on national and international news, so maybe I'm not saving any time at all. Whatever.)

Another advantage to a smaller paper in a smaller city is that when I don't agree with their editorial decisions I can write a letter and stand some chance of it being printed. My most recent letter, though, they did not print, and I'm mad about it. My letter was about the way they covered the Ann Coulter "faggot" remark. There was no coverage of the actual incident, but they printed a small story a week later about Edwards' response to it.

Here's my letter:

Dear editor:

I am offended by your article on Senator Edwards' response to Ann Coulter's calling him a faggot.

First, Coulter made this remark a week ago. This was a well-known political commentator using an extremely offensive slur in front of an audience of applauding Republican presidential candidates. If she'd called Barak Obama a nigger or Hillary Clinton a bitch, would you have taken a week to report it?

Second, you won't print the word "nigger" (or "bitch") in the Statesman, but you will print "faggot," which is just as degrading to a whole class of people. Why the inconsistency?

Third, and worst, is the paragraph about Edwards' wife and children, as if to reassure us that Edwards is not a faggot. Do I really have to point out to you that the point of the story is not that Coulter was mistaken?!

Two weeks later, I wrote and said that, if they were not going to print the letter, I would at least appreciate a response to my question about the inconsistency regarding which slurs they print in their pages. An editor emailed me to say, "In a highly publicized remark about a presidential candidate or potential candidate, we would use those words you held out as an example. In fact, we have used those words when news judgment dictated that it best serves the reader to do so."

A search of the Statesman's web site returned no hits for "nigger" and one hit for "bitch."

I'm still mad that they get away with trotting out the wife and kids to verify Edwards' heterosexuality. It just feels so sadly backward. It reminds of my freshman year at Miami University (1979!), when I wrote a paper about the play, Tea and Sympathy, objecting to what seemed to me to be the message that the taunting of the boy -- I don't remember what names the other boys called him, but the essence of the teasing was to question his heterosexuality -- was reprehensible only because the boy was not gay, which was revealed by his having some kind of sexual encounter with the female teacher.

My professor told me I was overreacting. Twenty-five years later, I'm still overreacting.

Another year older and deeper in debt.

Today, I signed up to screen for another drug trial. This one is bigger, longer, and pays $7000. It'll tie me up on and off until the end of May, but $7000 should be enough for me to make a big payment on my credit cards to offset what I'll have to borrow for May rent and bills and have enough left to get me through the summer.

Today is my 46th birthday. J. made heart-shaped pancakes with strawberries for breakfast.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Spring blah.

I haven't felt like doing much of anything this week. Maybe I'm still wiped out from the film festival. I haven't worked on my screenplay, haven't even done much reading. I'm about 100 pages into Moby Dick. Great book. (Duh, you say. But for some reason I never read it before.)

I haven't been sleeping well. I toss and turn and by 6 o'clock, I'm wide awake. Sometimes I'll fall asleep again at 8 or so, but I've been making myself get up because I don't want to sleep all day. I've actually been getting bored sometimes during the day, which is rare for me. Usually I feel like there's too much to do. But, since I haven't been able to make myself write much and don't feel interested in reading, there's a lot of time to fill. The last few days, I've been filling it with either reading blogs or browsing the gay hookup posts on craigslist. I haven't been interested in meeting anyone, I just get mesmerized by the often very strange pictures.

Oh, and gardening. I've been doing that. And that's satisfying.

I got out of the routine of meditating during the film festival, and when I'm not doing that, everything becomes more difficult.

Yesterday I had an appointment at the STD clinic to get screened for everything. They have test results for HIV and syphilis is about 20 minutes, which was nice. HIV tests have previously caused me so much anxiety that I've avoided them, or even a couple times, when I've gone to have blood drawn, I haven't been able to bring myself to call for results. Anyway, my tests were all negative.

Overall, the clinic experience was top-notch here in Austin. Since I've been without insurance most of my life, I've relied on free and low-cost clinics for most of my health care. And I've been to some extremely unpleasant clinics. But yesterday, I was in and out in an hour, the place was clean and cheery, and the phlebotomist and nurse were both pleasant and efficient.

In the evening, Z. and I went for a walk around Town Lake then had dinner at Marakesh. (Finally a Middle Eastern restaurant that stands up to the high standard of my old Jersey City haunts.)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Gay Bi Gay Gay.

J. and I sang in an event yesterday called Gay Bi Gay Gay, in a backyard here in Austin. (There are lots of real and imaginary events riffing on the South By Southwest theme this time of year. My favorite is Fuck By Fuck Y'all.)

We sort of fell into it. A few weeks ago, J. was talking with a new friend who mentioned the event and J. I think mentioned that he used to perform; the next thing we knew we were on the bill. I didn't know what to expect, but what I did not expect was something so big and fun and great. We were early in the lineup -- I think we went on at about 3:30 -- but there were already dozens of people there. By the time we left (at about 8, halfway through a lineup of about 15-20 bands) there were at least a couple hundred people packed into that yard.

We sang very cheesy arrangements of old gospel songs: Are You Washed in the Blood?, When the Roll in Called Up Yonder, etc. Songs we love, and love to sing. But the arrangements were a little bizarre. J. just got a new keyboard, the kind that plays itself. But it sounds great. The piano and organ and drum sounds are actually fairly convincing. If you need it to (and we do), the keyboard will do the bass chords and rhythms, drums, fills, intros and endings. But you have to push the buttons at the right time. If you don't, you may just end the song after the first verse, for example. I like to think of the keyboard as a very enthusiastic but unpredictable new band member.

I wore a powder blue suit, and J. wore all black. I don't think the audience knew what to make of us, but for some reason that added to my enjoyment of the experience.

The revelation of the day was a solo performer called Dynasty Handbag. She was crazy-freaky and hysterically funny. Picture a cross between Laurie Anderson, Lucille Ball, and a schizophrenic homeless woman. She sang, danced, spoke and muttered to prerecorded tracks, often having otherworldly conversations with her own recorded voice. After her set, she emerged from the backstage area, just an unassuming, very sweet young woman selling her CDs, and for some reason that made it all the more remarkable. That it wasn't actually a crazy person but a real live artist. She's from New York and was here for SXSW.

There were a whole bunch of great bands and acts on the bill. It's been a long time since I've been in the midst of so much creativity and such a big supportive audience for it. This same crowd does a once-a-month open stage performance night called Camp Camp. I've never been, but J. and I plan to sing in the next one. I've heard that it's just as popular and just as wildly creative as Gay Bi Gay Gay.

Back to the Garden.

There's a critter visiting our garden at night, and it's starting to make my blood boil. I never saw myself as one of those people at war with the squirrels or whatever, in fact I always thought those people were a little ridiculous. I took the stance that it's humans who have created all the habitat problems so it's we who need to take it in stride when the animals wreak havoc in our yards.

But two out of three of my goddamn tomato seedlings and one of my chilies have been chewed off and left there. Whatever it is is not even eating them, just destroying them. And we have a three-foot fence around the garden, so it's something that can jump or climb pretty high.

My dad has some kind of a gun and he shoots and kills raccoons in my parents' backyard. And they poison the chipmunks. Dozens of them. It goes on all summer long. My mom and dad are not gun people, but they have no mercy when it comes to the garden. Now, to me that looks more like a massacre than gardening. But I'm starting to understand.